There is nothing like Shabbat in Jerusalem. The entire city seems to be taking a break. There are very few people on the streets, most stores are closed. It is as if the entire city is taking a collective breath. There is a peace that we just don’t get in Thousand Oaks. It is a very different feel than the Shabbat we experienced last week in Tel Aviv. I love Shabbat in Jerusalem.
As we wake up on our final day of travel together there is an air of excitement as this is the day that our 10 students from TAE will lead a Shabbat service overlooking the Old City and chant the ancient words from our Torah. We have been preparing for this day for about 5 months now, with individual and group practices to get them comfortable with the service. We are all exhausted from our travels, and some, including my poor Hayley, are feeling under the weather (side note, today, Sunday, she is feeling much better). But even these illnesses will not get in the way of our families enjoying perhaps the most unique Shabbat service experience they have ever enjoyed. Not only are we parents and grandparents bursting with pride that our kids are taking their place as leaders, but we are also overlooking the Old City, and from this point forward when we are in our sanctuary at TAE and Rabbi Diamond has us turn and face east for the Bar’chu, Amida and Aleinu, we will once again be transported back here to Jerusalem, and remember our time at the Western Wall where we laid our hands on this ancient and holy stone, and our kids will remember when they led services in the penthouse of the hotel where they turned and faced the Old City. Incredible.
Of course, the first order of business was our traditional TAE B’nai Mitzvah Selfie! This one, without question, included the most people ever! And someone even got a photo of me taking the selfie. That is a TAE first!
The service was incredible. All of our kids did a terrific job and did their families and TAE proud! I was unable to take photos, and I am trying to include as many of our kids as possible, but these are the only photos I have received so far.
I am grateful that people chose to take photos of Hayley as she read Torah. I am so proud of her for being such a terrific leader, in spite of her illness as she was feeling really rotten. She has made me so proud every step of this trip.
Following the service, we all went down to a ballroom to enjoy a celebratory Kiddush lunch which included a delicious cake!
After lunch most of the group went with Uri back to the Old City to tour the Christian Quarter and enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, followed by some more shopping time. I chose to stay at the hotel and be a dad to Hayley. She really needed the rest. And to be honest, so did I! I am grateful to my friend Uri who was able to take the group without me there to take up the caboose.
In the evening, we loaded the bus for the 20 travelers who would be taking the first flights home and then we gathered with Uri to wrap up our experience here in Israel. Uri showed us a map and we went over each stop in our epic journey. It seems like more than 9 days ago, and we covered so much ground, but Uri was quick to tell us that although our days were full, there was so much we were not able to do. Who knows, maybe we would come back someday together and fill in those gaps. But Uri also shared that we got a realistic view of Israel, with her triumphs and challenges. We learned to love her in spite of her shortcomings and to be proud of her many accomplishments. I was able to thank everyone for coming on this trip and allowing them to have experiences that would shape the rest of their lives. I shared that we all need to become advocates for Israel, sharing our experiences with the many people who will undoubtedly have questions for us when we return.
Uri and I then asked the group to share. We wanted them to share their views of the trip, a special highlight of a moment that they experienced, and what happens next for them as they travel home. I was so grateful to be able to hear their remarks. Everyone spoke of how they loved the trip, and, mostly how they loved developing close relationships with those in our traveling group. Some knew each other well before traveling, others only knew people from our pre-trip gatherings. But all are leaving Israel with new lifelong friendships. The kids, who at first separated into small cliques, by the end were one solid group, and are already planning to get together when we are home. The adults are talking about a reunion party where we can share photos and experiences together and remember when we were in Israel. Everyone spoke about the importance of Uri, our educator. I cannot stress enough how incredible he is as a teacher. He brought Israel to life for each of us in our own special way. He connected with every person on the trip, from our youngest traveler (Eli, age 3 and a half) to the oldest. Everyone is leaving Israel with a new friend in Uri, and I am grateful for the chance to have worked with him again. I hope to continue to build on our friendship and hope to see him in Thousand Oaks at TAE soon. And I hope to be able to experience Israel with him again, soon, as our educator.
After almost an hour of sharing, we did our final act as a traveling family. We celebrated Havdallah, officially ending Shabbat. But for me, this was a different kind of Havdallah. Instead of focusing on separating the holiness of Shabbat from the not-yet-holiness of the rest of the week, I chose to focus on separating the holiness of this trip from the not-yet-holiness of the rest of our lives. And just like we bring the sweet taste of wine and the smell of spices with us to remember the sweetness of Shabbat, we used these items to bring with us back home to remember the sweetness and holiness of this trip. As we sang the music with our arms wrapped around each other it was incredibly emotional for me. For two years I have worked on this trip, hoping it would be a transformative one for the people who trusted in me enough to come along. It was a total labor of love, and I am so grateful for these travelers. I shared with them that there were special moments with each one of them during our journey. And I can’t wait to share that glance at TAE, knowing what we experienced together here in our home in the east. And… I can’t wait to start planning our next trip. I encourage you all to consider a TAE communal trip to Israel. We are already working on a family trip for June of 2021.
And now, for Hayley and me, we get to go on a little vacation to London to experience all she has to offer in terms of Harry Potter. The highlight will be Thursday, where we get to see Sara Kirby and her husband Tony. Sara is the cousin of Hayley’s Holocaust Twin, Hermi van Hasselt. We have developed a close relationship with Sara through the years since Carly’s bat mitzvah (where Carly twinned with Hermi’s younger sister, Sophia). It will be so nice to spend some time with her and share about how meaningful Hermi helped to make Hayley’s bat mitzvah. I will try to update the blog after this meeting. Until then, thank you all for coming along this trip with us. I hope you got a taste of what traveling to Israel might be like, and I hope to take YOU and your family here one day soon.
L’hitraot Israel, until we meet again.